A Very Ordinary Story Chapter 12.

A Very Ordinary Story


The Station Master

I told you in an earlier chapter my reasons for becoming a Station Master, probably the wrong ones but nevertheless it brought a bit of variety into my life and I wasn't stuck at an office desk all day. It had many compensations. To a certain degree I was the boss, with only head office to answer to and provided the station was run reasonably efficiently, there were no problems from that source.

We had visits from various Head Office people to make sure that things were going as they should. An Inspector from the Operating Department would arrive occasionally to make sure that all the Rules and Regulations were being complied with, and he would put me through a test once a year to ensure that I was still knowledgeable in the said Rules and Regulations. People called auditors would arrive unexpectedly who immediately checked the cash, doing what was called a balance, to ensure that no jiggery pokery was going on. It wasn't easy to fiddle the books. The railways had their own form of accountancy, which, although almost foolproof was vary labour intensive, and meant that there were many railway clerks employed and in pre WW II days were mainly male.

I never managed to reach the dizzy heights at a large station, finishing up at Fairlie High Station with Fairlie Pier under my command. At those smaller stations the Station Master was a fairly important man in the locality. Probably on a par with the minister or the local postmaster. He was really a jack of all trades. The local station was the window for the whole of the railway system and if it was well run and kept in good condition it did encourage the public to make use of that means of transport. The facilities for the travelling public were very good. There were comfortable waiting rooms, normally heated by an open fire and public toilets for both ladies and gents.At practically every station one could get full information about any sort of journey, complicated or otherwise, and purchase a travel ticket for any destination in the country.

A stationmaster was required to know all about the operating systems used to control the running of trains (of all descriptions). The Rule Book contained instructions from how the staff should comport themselves at work to detailed instructions on how to manage the movement of trains during 'single line working', following an accident. (more later). There were a further two booklets – 'Signalling arrangements for Single lines' and 'Signalling arrangements for Double lines'.

Single line was when there was only one set of rails between two points and, of course, only one train could be on that line in whatever direction. To prevent two trains travelling in opposite directions on the same section of the line ( a section can be described as the line, usually, between two stations, where a crossing place was provided). That is, two trains could approach a station from different directions, where the trains could be channelled to its own bit of the double line. One train had to be brought to a halt before the other could enter the station. Stations were protected by fixed signals, in both directions. A caution signal was the first to be encountered, normally called the Distant signal. When at the 'On' position it indicated to a driver to be prepared to stop at the next signal, and when 'Off', the driver knew that he had a clear road ahead. The other type was the Danger signal which required the train to be brought to a halt when in the 'On ' position, and could not be moved until the signal was lowered (or raised) to the 'Off' position. To avoid the possibility of two trains being allowed into the section from different directions at the same time, there was quite an elaborate system in operation, controlled by the signalmen, who exchanged signals with each other by a code of bells. Before a train was allowed to proceed, the signalman had to ask permission from the signalman at the other end of the section, by means of a code of bell signals, each signal had to be acknowledged by the receiver. After the train had been accepted the receiving signalman allowed the sender to release a 'tablet' or token from an electrically controlled machine. This token was placed in a pouch and handed to the driver, who could then proceed, provided the signal was clear. The same problem did not arise on double lines as trains ran in one direction only, either the Up line (towards London) or the Down line, so in theory and nearly always in practice two trains could not be approaching each other on the same line. The signalling system was so arranged by interlocking methods to prevent a signal being lowered (all clear) if points were set to allow such a thing to happen. Trains had to be offered and received by means of the same bell codes as that on the single line.

In the event of an accident, blocking one of the double lines. Trains could be run on the secure line in both directions, but not at the same time. The same principle for controlling trains on single lines of railway applied, except that instead of a token being used as the authority. A human being, called a Pilotman, usually the Stationmaster had to accompany every train on its journey. The Rulebook gave explicit instructions about this operation.

Signals were of the semaphore type. Originally all lower quadrant, that is, when at the danger position (horizontal) and when at the safe or go position it drops to an angle of 45 degrees. The signalman, pulling huge levers in the signalbox, controlled the signals mechanically. They were all designed to 'fail safe', if anything went wrong the signal would immediately go to the danger or stop position. Latterly upper quadrat signals were put in place. Instead of dropping 45 degrees, they were raised at an angle of 45 degrees. This made the 'fail safe' principle much easier.

Accountancy at every station was virtually foolproof and indeed it was very difficult indeed to try to fiddle the books. Every single item of any value at all had to be accounted for and when a clerk took over from another a balance had to be done before the transfer took place. The 'balance' consisted of listing all the debits, ticket sales, parcel stamp values etc. the total of which had to agree with the 'credits', the main one being cash. The railway had its own system of transferring debits and credits between stations. If an account for a service was paid at a station other than where it had occurred, the station receiving the cash was required to send an appropriate (paper) credit to the other station so that it could clear the amount outstanding raised for the service provided. A monthly 'balance sheet' was prepared for submission to HQ. Those were the days of the old halfpenny (ha'penny) and although it did appear in the daily balances, it was not allowed to appear in the monthly balance total. There was a complicated system of 'rounding up' and 'rounding down' which caused many a young clerk a few headaches!

On the freight side, every consignment had to be accompanied by an invoice, which was the basis of freight accountancy. This included 'smalls' (traffic not large enough to occupy a full wagon) and full wagon load traffic. The invoice was compiled in duplicate and contained information about where it was from, where it was going to a full description of the goods, its weight and charges raised. A very important entry was the route the traffic travelled as, if it crossed more than one Railway Company, these companies had to receive a share of the costs. The Railway Clearing House in London looked after this and the invoices were required to be abstracted by destination and route so that the correct allocations of money could be made. If traffic arrived without an invoice or an invoice arrived with no traffic, unmitigated cofusion and consternation along with anger was let loose!

A stationmaster had to be proficient in all those things - Railway Operating, Railway Passenger and Goods Work and Accounts, being good at Public Relations, be able to supervise all the staff under his command and run a good and efficient station. Despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed my period as a stationmaster. To a large extent, I was my own boss, there were many outdoor activities and although a certain amount of clerical work was required, I was not tied to a desk all day. The local communities, I think, by and large respected me, and was often asked to serve on committees of various local organisations.

The only slight problem was that, if you wanted promotion, it meant changing location. With this in view, the railways provided a station house for the stationmaster so, generally, there was no problem there. Not so good if there was a young family, having to change schools. I was fairly lucky in that respect. I was at St Monans station when both my sons, Ian and Sandy started primary school. Ian had just finished primary and had just started High School at Waid Academy, Anstruther, Sandy was in the penultimate year at primary when we moved to Fairlie in 1960. So, hopefully the interruption in their education wasn't too upsetting. They both did well and eventually went to Glasgow University and got good degrees.


Signals were of the semaphore type. Originally all lower quadrant, that is, when at the danger position (horizontal) and when at the safe or go position it drops to an angle of 450 degrees.

Signal Levers

The signalman, pulling huge levers in the signalbox, controlled the signals mechanically. They were all designed to 'fail safe', if anything went wrong the signal would immediately go to the danger or stop position. Latterly upper quadrat sinals were put in place. Instead of dropping 450, they were raised at an angle of 450. This made the 'fail safe' principle much easier.

As many stations lent themselves to floral displays, the stationmaster was required to have some knowledge of gardening. In th CD set entitled 'A Puff of Smoke', my clerkess, Marjory Aitken wrote: Every station on the East of Fife line, St Monance included, had its own garden, beautifully tended and nurtured.
We won many awards and had the plaques to prove it. The staff, usually the Stationmaster, produced flowers and plants. It was a real labour of love.” A report in the St Andrews Citizen dated 27 September 1930 gave the results of of the awards for best-kept stations including St Monance, Largo, Leven, St Andrews, Elie, Kilconquhar and Boarhills

Promotion on the railway, in those days, did not mean a large increase in salary. There was a minimum figure in the new grade and after two years it rose slightly to the maximum. I was no better off financially in my move to Fairlie as the increase in the house rental swallowed up my increase in salary. Fairlie was my last station as, to effect economies, the position of Stationmaster was abolished. The Scottish Region was then made up of Areas, with an Area Manager in charge of all the stations in the Area, as described in Chapter 13.

A Change of Direction - 1968-1979

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